Saturday, September 15, 2018

A Northwoods Almanac for 9/14, 2018

A Northwoods Almanac for September 14 – 27, 2018
Sightings: Monarch Butterflies and Sandhill Cranes Staging on Manitoulin Island, Ontario                                              Mary, Callie, and I just spent a week in Ontario visiting Manitoulin Island and the Bruce Peninsula, both of which are located on far northern Lake Huron and Georgian Bay. On one of our days on Manitoulin Island, we did an exceptional three-mile hike along the shoreline of Misery Bay where we were rewarded in numerous ways, but perhaps most remarkably, we found ourselves in the midst of the monarch butterfly migration. A steady stream of monarchs passed by us throughout the late morning and early afternoon.

do you have any idea how hard it is to capture a picture of a flitting monarch in migration? 
          It’s one thing, of course, to intellectually understand that something happens, but it’s another thing altogether to experience it. We watched as they flitted this way and that, going three times the distance they would cover if they just flew straight. And we considered in amazement that they still had some 2,600 miles to go to reach the oyamel fir trees of Michoacan and Mexico states. The very fact that they only weigh about half a gram - 0.017 ounce – and they have the strength and resilience to fly all that way overcoming whatever the weather throws at them is truly astonishing.
We also found along the shoreline a number of dead monarchs, each having succumbed to some malady early in its migration. I wonder if there’s an estimate of how many monarchs begin migration and how many actually survive the flight.
          Misery Bay is a 2,400-acre Provincial Park Nature Reserve that is famous for its alvar communities – expanses of exposed bedrock that appear as flat pavement with scattered boulders. These rare ecosystems are found only around the Great Lakes and Baltic Regions of Europe and Scandinavia, and Misery Bay is considered the best representative of these rare ecosystems in the world. Alvars support a large number of rare species, including 19 vascular plants, 3 species of lichen and mosses, 4 species of reptiles, and at least 9 species of insects.


          I have to admit we knew virtually nothing about alvars before we arrived, but now we know that Misery Bay supports 7 different alvar communities. In fact, Misery Bay supports 20 different vegetation communities, as well as 448 species of vascular plants and 88 species of non-vascular plants. It’s a plant lover’s dream come true, and we just stumbled upon it through blind luck.
I should also note that a warbler migration was happening that same day, so between the plants, the butterflies, the birds, and the beauty of Lake Huron, our heads were on a swivel.

Mary Burns on the alvar

          A few days earlier, we also were surprised to see many hundreds of sandhill cranes congregated in various farm fields. They were so numerous that we were seldom out of earshot of their bugling. Manitoulin serves as a staging area for sandhills prior to their migration, and by early October, many thousands will be present. And then one day, off they’ll go, nearly all headed for wintering sites in Florida.         
          One last series of fun statistics: Manitoulin Island is the largest freshwater island in the Great Lakes at 1,068 square miles, and, in fact, is the largest freshwater island in the world with 108 islands of its own. Lake Manitou, a lake on Manitoulin Island, is also the largest lake in a freshwater island in the world. And to take it even further, Treasure Island is the largest island in a lake on an island in a lake in the world. Got all that?
          The island is a continuation of the Niagara Escarpment, which runs south from here forming part of the Bruce Peninsula on its way to Niagara Falls. Six Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) reserves are scattered around the island, and archaeological excavations have found a site dating back at least 9,500 years.  A treaty in 1862 opened the island to settlement, but was not accepted by the native community, so a reserve was set aside and remains unceded. Called the Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve, this is Canada’s only unceded reserve.

Sightings on Bruce Peninsula, Ontario: The Oldest White Cedars in Eastern North America and Rare Fen Plants         
          After three days on Manitoulin Island, we took a car ferry to the Bruce Peninsula with the idea of walking sections of the Bruce Trail, which runs along the Niagara Escarpment for 550 miles from Niagara Falls to Tobermory, Ontario. The trail is one of thirteen UNESCO World Biosphere Reserves in Canada, and is Canada’s oldest and longest marked hiking trail. We came in particular to view the ancient white cedars that cling precariously to the Niagara cliff-face. These dolomite vertical rock faces support what are arguably the oldest, most extensive, most intact, and least known old-growth forest ecosystems in eastern North America. “There is nothing like it in Canada,” writes Pete Kelly, co-author of The Last Stand: A Journey Through the Ancient Cliff-Face Forest of the Niagara Escarpment.“These cedar trees have been living on these cliffs for over 1,000 years, including two trees that sprouted from seed before the year 700 AD . . . The oldest of the living trees began life shortly after the death of Mohammed, the founder of Islam, and before Genghis Khan and the Viking colonization of North America.”

white cedars clinging to the cliff face
            Researchers began random sampling on the Niagara Escarpment in southern Ontario in 1998. They created the “Niagara Escarpment Ancient Tree Atlas Project,” surveying numerous cliff areas and finding 73 trees older than 500 year in age, 22 trees over 700 years, and the oldest, a 1060 year-old white cedar at Lion’s Head on the Bruce Peninsula that germinated in 952 A.D.
That was just the beginning. Later research uncovered two cedar trees at Lion’s Head that sprouted from seed in 688 AD. And while that’s stunningly remarkable, the researchers also found a dead white cedar on Flowerpot Island on the northern end of the Bruce Peninsula that had lived for 1,890 years. Plus, they found pieces of wood at the base of the cliffs that started to grow about three-thousand or four-thousand years ago – woody debris that germinated before Tutankhamen was on the throne in Egypt.
          Many of these gnarled, twisted, and stunted white cedars grow at an average of one inch of height every 15 years. Some older cedars have been calculated to be growing at less than one millimeter per year, making them the slowest growing trees on earth. One researcher commented that in the most extreme cases, they appear to be growing at only one cell width per year.
These cedars dance in a very delicate balance of life – the oldest simply can’t grow any faster or they risk losing their foothold to the heavy tug of gravity.
          So, that’s why we came – just to be in the presence of these ancient trees, most of which are so small that no one even considered they could be old until the atlas project was begun.
We were also delighted to walk on level ground along boardwalks on two large fens. Each offered us up-close views of numerous flowers still remarkably in bloom on 9/9, including blue-green grass of parnassus (Parnassiaglauca), nodding ladies tresses orchid (Spiranthes cernua), smaller fringed gentian (Gentianopsis virgata), Kalm’s lobelia (Lobelia kalmii), and many, many more.
grass of parnassus

fringed purple gentian
Juvenile Reddish Egret on the Bruce Peninsula, Ontario         
           Just to put the capper on what had already been a marvelous trip, we were told by a restaurant cashier on our last afternoon on the Bruce about the very rare sighting of a reddish egret in Oliphant, a tiny community just 30 minutes away from where we were staying. It was late in the afternoon already, and we were leaving early the next morning, but we looked at one another and said, “Why not?” So, we went looking for this bird, and, amazingly, we found it shortly after arriving in the general area. It was easy to identify because reddish egrets have a truly distinctive foraging behavior – they chase down fish by running through the water, spinning around occasionally, and spreading their wings to reduce glare on the water, then striking. It’s dramatic and entertaining!
          This was the first reddish egret ever seen in Ontario, and only the third ever recorded in Canada. They’re found primarily in the Caribbean, but also along the Gulf Coast and Pacific coast from Baja California to Costa Rica. Reddish egrets are North America’s rarest heron/egret with only 15,000 to 30,000 known in the wild.
          What this juvenile bird was doing in Oliphant, Ontario, is a secret only it will ever know, but these birds are known for their vagrancy and have been documented in Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio – I don’t know of any records for Wisconsin.

reddish egret sitting in a fishing boat at Olipant
Burls         
          I’ve long been puzzled by what causes a tree to form a burl, those knobby, contorted growths on the sides of trees. I love to see burls, but woodworkers positively start salivating when they see one. What makes them so sought after is the way that the grain of the wood is generally twisted and deformed, producing what’s called “figure.”
One author describes it this way, “Visualize a normal grain pattern as parallel strands of yarn. A burl would be a ball of yarn. It’s as though the tree’s cells went haywire and decided to tie themselves into a knot.”
          In burl formation, the tree’s growth hormones get disrupted when the metabolism of the tree is stressed by a virus, fungus, or bacterium, or perhaps by an insect or physical wound. One example is the crown gall bacterium. It carries within it a plasmid, which causes the tree to make special amino acids to produce the burl.
          Burls do little if any harm to the tree. The xylem in the burl is still able to do its job of transporting water and nutrients, though its function may be diminished.
Cutting out burls does damage to a tree since it leaves large wounds that are likely to become infected. If a woodworker wishes to utilize a burl, it’s best to cut the whole tree, turn the burl into a bowl, and use the rest for firewood or boards.

Thought for the Week
“Trees give pleasure to a pilgrim, shade to a deer, berries to a bird, beauty to the land and health to humans, branches for fire, leaves to the soil . . . when I come to a tree I feel a sense of calm, a sense of healing – it is the true sustaining force of the earth. – Satish Kumar

Thursday, August 30, 2018

A Northwoods Almanac for 8/31/18

A Northwoods Almanac for August 31 – September 13, 2018   

Sightings: Nighthawk Migration, Green Herons, Northern Flicker Tongues, Oak Galls, Northern Tooth Mushroom, Changing Leaves
            Nighthawks began migrating last week and will continue to pass through our area for several more weeks. They migrate in greatest numbers in the early evening, but may be seen anytime during the day. Look for a white bar on the underside of their sharply-pointed wings, and note their often erratic, moth-like flight. Common nighthawks are usually solitary, but they often form large flocks during migration – flocks of a thousand or more on occasion!
Sarah Krembs has sent me an array of marvelous photos of two juvenile green herons that she has worked hard to photograph in Presque Isle. These uncommon and inconspicuous herons are hard to spot at any time, much less to get good photos of the young-of-the-year. The chicks fledge after 21 or so days in the nest, but the parents continue to feed them, as well as begin to teach them how to fish. Their independence is estimated to occur between 30 and 35 days. Green herons are known to use 15 different foraging techniques: standing, baiting, standing flycatching, head swaying, neck swaying, walking slowly, walking quickly, scanning, feet-first diving, foot stirring, foot raking, plunging, diving, jumping, and swimming feeding – eating everything from invertebrates to crayfish to snails to rodents to frogs to snakes to fish. 

photo by Sarah Krembs
Most intriguingly, they also have been observed to bait for fish using a variety of lures like crusts of bread, mayflies, and feathers. One bird dug earthworms from the mud and used them as bait, and twice birds broke pieces of stick to make bait, an example of tool-making. 
Hannah Dana in Arbor Vitae sent me a photo of a flicker that had unfortunately flown into her garage door and died. She observed that it had a “spaghetti-like coil which came from within its beak.” She did some research and “found that flickers (like hummingbirds) have a long tongue with a velcro-like tip for catching ants. It protruded 2-3" from its bill, and I wondered where the tongue goes when the bird is alive and not eating. There is a hollow area in the skull above the occipital area and the tongue coils up like a window shade . . . Every day I am amazed about the engineering of nature and this one is at the top of my ‘awe’ list.” 


On any given drive in September, you’re likely to kick up flickers alongside the road as they are “anting” – looking for ant hills – in the gravel. Ants are the primary food of flickers – they forage by probing and hammering in the soil with their powerful bills. But they also eat beetle larvae and a variety of berries like wild black cherry, poison ivy, dogwood, and sumac from late fall to early spring. 
We’ve been seeing numerous oak galls on the ground in recent weeks. These odd structures are typically initiatedin early spring and are caused by chemicals injected by certain kinds of gall makers, the majority of which are tiny wasps. All sorts of shapes and sizes of galls exist from the more than 700 species of gall wasps have been documented in North America. 


The galls provide a protected enclosure for the development of the insect larvae and a source of concentrated food for the developing larvae. Perhaps the most common oak galls seen in our area are oak apple galls. They’re large (1- to 2-inch diameter) rounded growths that are filled with a spongy mass, but which dry to a dry papery thin wall.  A single wasp larva is located in a hard seed-like cell in the center. 
            Sally von Zirngibl on Papoose Lake sent me a fine photo of a northern tooth fungus, or what is also called northern shelving fungus because it looks like a disheveled unit of shelving. Northern tooth causes heart rot in maples where it is most commonly found. Heart-rotted trees make for poor lumber, but make great habitat for cavity-nesting birds and denning mammals. As always, value is determined by what lens one chooses to look through.


            Leaves are changing, and acorns are falling! September is upon us, and the whole machinery of the plant world is starting to shut down or dramatically reducing its photosynthetic capacity. No frosts yet, which is great for gardens, but not an attribute historically in the Northwoods. Anyone need a zucchini?

Plastic Straw Ban
A plastic straw ban movement is sweeping through the country, in large part due to a disturbing video that went viral of a marine biologist extracting a crusty plastic straw from the nostril of a live sea turtle. 
In just the U.S., one estimate suggests 500 million straws are used every single day. One studyestimates as many as 8.3 billion plastic straws pollute the world's beaches. 
The real issue, however, isn’t straws, but single-use plastic. Plastic pollution is now a global environmental crisis, most notably in our oceans. To date, we have produced 9.2 billion tons of plastic, of which 6.3 billion tons were not recycled, and since plastic takes over 450 years to fully decompose, it’s a genuine problem.
            
Many millions of pounds of plastic end up in the ocean every year, a number which is expected to double by 2025. Wildlife are killed by ingesting or becoming entangled in plastic, but plastics also decimate coral reefs.Plastics also create help create dead zones where nothing can live, and they damage human health in the form of microplastics entering the food chain. 
Some folks have derided banning straws as ineffectual or as environmentalists going off the deep end. They have a point regarding its effectiveness – of the tons of plastics that flow into the ocean every year, straws comprise only 0.025 percent. So, a straw ban won’t solve the problem of ocean plastics. We truly need a more ambitious, global solution.
            However, banning plastic straw bans is easy to do (non-plastic straws work fine), doesn’t cause any economic upheaval, and constitutes one step toward the ultimate goal of ending the circulation of single-use plastic. It’s a starting point.

Vanishing Loons
A recent blog post by Walter Piper (see: https://loonproject.org/2018/08/19/could-loons-vanish-from-wisconsin/)“Loons are hanging in there better than many other vertebrate animals . . . Breeding populations are now generally stable or even increasing across most of the northern tier of United States. My study area in northern Wisconsin is typical; loons have re-colonized many lakes in the past few decades from which they had retreated. So, loon populations are thriving despite extensive shoreline development, entanglements with hooks and fishing line, and increases in methylmercury levels, among many other challenges.”
On the other hand, “A new anthropogenic threat [climate change] now looms that is more extensive and unrelenting than others that loons have faced . . . The northern Wisconsin loon population (and abutting populations in Minnesota and Michigan's Upper Peninsula) exist on an isolated ‘finger’ that projects southwards from the heart of the range, which lies in Canada. The model (see http://climate.audubon.org/birds/comloo/common-loonpaints a very bleak picture of the future loon population in northern Wisconsin. According to the model, loons are projected to be much less abundant in northern Wisconsin by 2050 and gone altogether by 2080.
He offers a word of caution, as all good scientists should, about all projections: “It is difficult to project precisely how the geographic range of the common loon might be affected . . . Audubon scientists have attempted to distill the climate down to two main factors: temperature and precipitation . . . Their projection is likely to provide a crude estimate of the impact of climate change on loons, not a precise one. That is, loons are likely to cope with climate change better than most other birds – as they have other environmental threats. Then again, loons might be especially sensitive to climate change and retreat northward more rapidly than the study predicts.”
I recommend reading the entire blog post, because no species is more emblematic of the North Country than the loon, and its loss is not negotiable.

FSC Certified Products
Last weekend, as part of a group organized by Partners in Forestry, we paddled to the Tenderfoot Preserve, and I had the opportunity to paddle with Bob Simeone who was instrumental in establishing the certification of wood products via the Forest Stewardship Council. I’ve known about the FSC for a long time, but it was little more than an acronym to me. With Bob’s help, I’ve learned that the Forest Stewardship Council is an independent, non-profit organization that has established voluntary standards for responsible forest management. The FSC has used the power of the marketplace to protect forests through certifying responsibly managed forest products, and is considered the gold standard in forest certification.
Within its certification process, FSC has instituted a “Chain-of-Custody” paper trail which traces the path of wood products from the cutting of the forests through the supply chain. The chain-of-custody recognizes that between the forest and the final user, products typically undergo many stages of processing and distribution, and all the steps need to be certified as sustainable for consumers to be assured that what they are buying is being handled in the right way.
FSC forest management certification also specifically confirms that a particular forest is being managed in line with FSC principles and criteria, of which there are 10 principles and 57 criteria (see https://us.fsc.org/en-us/what-we-do/mission-and-vision)! Each forest is then regularly audited by the FSC to ensure that it is being managed to those standards. Today, more than 380 million acres of forest are certified under FSC’s system, including more than 150 million acres in the US and Canada. 
Bottom line: buy products when you can that have the FSC label on them. Examples include Kleenex, Office Depot Multipurpose Paper, and Cottonelle toilet paper, among many others.


Celestial Events
            Look for brilliant Venus, Saturn, and Jupiter all at dusk very low in the southwest, and Mars at dusk in the southeast.
            Say goodbye this month to our days being longer than our nights. As of 9/6, we’ll be down to 13 hours of daylight.
            The new moon occurs on 9/9. Look on 9/13 for Jupiter four degrees below the crescent moon.

Thought for the Week
From Bob Simeone, professional forester and co-founder of The Forest Stewardship Council: “The Forest Guild was borne out of . . . the idea that there is far more we don’t understand about the forest systems we manage than that which we do. The ideal behind ecological forestry is adaptive management, meaning that we must first identify our base assumptions, and then think about— 
·      the things we think we know; 
·      the things we don’t know; 
·      the things we don’t know we don’t know; 
·      the things we think we know but don’t know; 
·      the things we know but don’t want to know; and 
·      the things we don’t know but wonder about . . .” 




Thursday, August 16, 2018

A Northwoods Almanac for 8/17/18

A Northwoods Almanac for August 17 – 30, 2018  by John Bates

Aspen Blotch Miner
Several people have contacted me regarding diseased aspen trees (“popples”) in our area, something I’ve noticed as well. I’m not well-versed on tree diseases, so I usually refer folks to Linda Williams, the forest health specialist for the WDNR in Woodruff. Here is Linda’s response to one of the individuals who had contacted me: “The issue that you’re seeing is the defoliation from a tiny caterpillar called Aspen Blotch Miner. This tiny caterpillar lives inside the leaf (between the top and bottom layers of the leaf).

photo by Wendi Home
            “The damage that they do looks significant, [but] it is not cause for alarm because the damage doesn’t seem to have an impact on tree health overall. The reasons for this are 1) the trees have had all spring and early summer to produce food, so damage to the leaf now isn’t as bad as something that defoliates the trees early in the spring, and 2) aspen will often send out a new flush of leaves mid-way through the growing season and those leaves will typically not be infested by Aspen Blotch Miner. Since they don’t have any major health impacts on the tree I don’t usually recommend any control. 
            “We saw damage from this insect last year in Vilas and Oneida Counties as well as a number of counties to our east (for some counties like Marinette, this is the 4th year of damage). Since the adult is a moth, it can fly to new areas and lay eggs, so you may not have had much defoliation last year.”  
            
Migration  
            Our insect-eating songbirds are migrating south, and our ruby-throated hummingbirds are tanking up for their flights, too. We like to think of these birds as “our” birds, but really, they spend only a few months here and far more time in their wintering habitats. I’m always saddened to see them going. I already miss song-filled dawns and their colorful flitting in the trees.
            Even though our local hummers may be leaving soon, keep your feeders up into October for other hummers migrating through.

Monarchs Soon to Migrate
“The monarch is . . . one of the few butterflies in the world that is able to explode out of the tropics into the temperate zone which is the most complex migration of any insect, of any invertebrate in the whole world. It’s so birdlike” (Dr. Lincoln Brower, considered the leading authority on the biology of monarchs).
Here’s my best shot at a quick summary of the remarkable life cycle of monarchs (adapted from the University of Minnesota Monarch Lab):
1-    The monarchs that spend the winter in the mountains of central Mexico migrate north beginning in March. These are the same monarchs that migrated last autumn to Mexico from regions throughout much of the U.S.
2-    They stop and lay eggs in northern Mexico and the southern US from late March through AprilFarther north, the last eggs are laid in late April or early May. These new monarchs become Generation 1. Since it is often cool when Generation 1 larvae are developing, it may take them up to 50 days or more to develop from eggs to adults.
3-    Generation 1 adults emerge from late April to early June. They quickly mate and begin to lay eggs about four days after emerging! Still, they continue the journey north that their parents began, laying eggs along the way and begin to arrive in the northern US and southern Canada in late May. Eggs that become generation 2 may be laid as late as July in the north.
4-    Monarchs that emerge from those eggs become Generation 2 and are the grandchildren of the previous overwintering monarchs. Those laid in the southern part of their range continue to migrate north. Generation 2 adults emerge in June and July, mate, and also lay eggs soon after emerging. Most of those that begin their lives in the south still move further north as adults to avoid the hot and dry weather. Those that emerge farther north may not move far.
5-    Some of these newly emerged Generation 3 monarchs may appear early enough to produce yet another summer generation – Generation 4 – but many don’t. Generations 3 and 4 monarch eggs are laid throughout the northern part of their range in July and August. However, Generation 3 individuals that emerge late in August will undergo diapause (a period of suspended development) and migrate to Mexico. Monarchs in Generations 3 and 4 are the great- and great-great grandchildren of the overwintering monarchs.
6-   These late emerging monarch will not reproduce right after they emerge. In response to decreasing temperatures and shortening daylengths at the end of the summer, their reproductive organs remain immature. Instead of mating and laying eggs, they spend their time drinking nectar and clustering together in nighttime roosts in preparation for their long journey south. This delayed maturity is called diapause. During September, October, and early November, migratory adults fly to overwintering sites in central Mexico, where they remain from November to March. In March, they will begin to journey north again.

White-lined Sphinx Moth
            Numerous people have recently sent me photos of white-lined sphinx moths (Hyles lineata) nectaring on flowers in their gardens. Some folks understandably mistake these moths for hummingbirds as they hover at tubular flowers, sipping nectar with their long proboscis that unrolls like a party favor. They beat their wings very fast like a hummingbird, which makes them a blur to photograph, and they’re also able to hover in mid-air, again like a hummingbird. They’ve been clocked flying at speeds as high as 30 miles an hour. 


photo by Howard Peitsch

They’re especially attracted to scented and brightly colored flowers, and have been feeding in our flower gardens on our bright red Oswego tea (Monarda didyma) and its close relative, bee balm or wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa). They’re also known to prefer cardinal flower, columbine, evening primrose, lilac, penstemon, petunia,and phlox. In the evening, they prefer white or pale-colored flowers which are easier to see in the dark because of their contrast with green foliage. The adults are primarily early evening to nocturnal fliers, but we’ve been seeing them frequently during the day.  
The adult females lay their eggs on plants in the spring – host plants in the Midwest include apple, evening primrose, grape, purslane, tomato, and willow-weed. The caterpillars that hatch out are quite variable in color, though the typical Midwestern color morph is green (dark to lime green) with a series of black lengthwise stripes, along with yellow and orange or pink dots. All have a pointed horn at their back end that may be yellow or orange. The horn is harmless, so don’t be concerned that it’s a stinger. The caterpillars develop through 5 instars (molts), growing up to 3½ inches long, then burrow 1 to 4 inches into the ground to pupate, eventually emerging as adult sphinx moths.
The adults serve a role in pollination, and at all stages of growth they provide food for predators. These relatively common moths occur throughout most of North America, from southern Canada down to Central America, as well as in Eurasia and Africa. 

American Cancer-root or Squawroot
On one of our old-growth hikes last week, we found a plant that can best be described as resembling a pine cone or cob of corn. Called American cancer-root or squawroot(Conopholis Americana – conos means ‘cone’ andpholos means ‘scale’), this very odd flowering plant has no chlorophyll, and thus doesn’t photosynthesize. Instead, itgrows on the roots of oak trees in our area and derives its nutrients from the tree. 

photo by Mary Burns
There’s no scientific evidence that it either prevents cancer or causes cancer. Instead, the parasitic roots cause the formation of large rounded knobs on the roots of the host tree, which is most likely the origin of name “cancer-root.” I can find nothing, however, on why it was once called “squawroot”.
It is not clear in the literature if the plant compromises the health of its host tree. It may instead exist in a stable parasite/host symbiosis with its much larger and longer lived host oak. 
The plant is eaten by bear and deer, which then disperse the seeds in their scat.

Fungi Time
            August and September are the peak months for mushrooms. During these months, one can walk a path without seeing a mushroom, and two days later walk the path again, and it will be loaded with mushrooms.
            Mary and I continue to slowly learn our mushroom IDs. It’s an intellectual struggle, but such a fun one! Mary has an excellent eye for spotting them, and last week she found a comb tooth mushroom (Hericium ramosum or coralloides), a pure white fungi with myriad branches that look like snowflakes.

photo by Mary Burns
            It’s saprophytic, usually living off the decay of downed hardwoods, especially birch and maple. Apparently, it’s a delicious edible, but Mary and I rarely eat the mushrooms we find – we just don’t have enough confidence in our ID skills. Plus, some things are so pretty that they should just be left alone.

Celestial Events
            Four planets are visible after dark this month. From west to east, they are Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars.
            Today, 8/17, look for Jupiter five degrees below the waxing crescent moon. On 8/21, look for Saturn two degrees below the waxing gibbous moon. 
            August’s full moon occurs on 8/25 and 26. Called the “Corn” or the “Rice” moon among many names, the moon will be 100% illuminated on both 8/25 and 8/26.
            We’re losing our evening light at a rapid pace – by 8/28, we’ll be down to 13.5 hours of daylight, with autumn equinox just over three weeks away.

Thought for the Week
“One of the greatest peculiarities of the past is that it shapes so very much of who we are – and yet in a very real sense it no longer exists save for the traces of it we carry in our memories. Without us to remember and reconstruct it, there would be no past. Much of growing up has to do with the expansion of our capacity to remember.” – William Cronen
            
Please share your outdoor sightings and thoughts: call 715-476-2828, e-mail at manitowish@centurytel.net, snail-mail at 4245N State Highway 47, Mercer, WI, or see my blog at www.manitowishriver.blogspot.com